February 15, 2011 in City

Commissioners postpone vote on jail bond

By The Spokesman-Review
 
At a glance

Including a 192-bed community corrections center, where inmates would receive counseling and classes, the new two-jail system would have 1,406 beds. The main jail on the courthouse campus would be renovated, and the Geiger Corrections Center would be replaced.

A scaled-down jail proposal may be presented to Spokane County voters this fall, but not in April as previously planned.

County commissioners decided last week that a spring election wouldn’t leave enough time to present new information to voters.

Commissioners reviewed a revised plan last week that calls for 592 fewer beds and eliminates an anticipated $8 million increase in annual operating costs. Construction would cost an estimated $199.5 million, down from $265 million.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Commissioner Mark Richard spluttered as though they had coffee in their windpipes when the No New Jail Coalition took credit for the reductions.

Allowing for interest costs, the group put the savings at $100 million in a news release Monday.

“That’s how much the No New Jail Coalition has already saved Spokane County, and they have forced the county commission to retreat from the April ballot.

“It’s just amazing that this group wants to take credit for something that we did,” Knezovich said.

He said the organization hadn’t been formed when county officials realized the project was too expensive and began looking for alternatives.

Richard said the cost reductions have “absolutely, categorically nothing to do with this very small, very deceptive group of individuals.”

No New Jail spokeswomen Lucy Lennox and Linda Krogh contend the jail construction bond measure is unnecessary and should be abandoned. They want more emphasis on programs to keep people out of jail.

“The justification for a new jail is simply not there,” Lennox said. “Crime rates have been declining for a decade.”

Knezovich and Richard say that’s not true, but the Geiger Corrections Center needs to be replaced because it is a dilapidated World War II Army barracks that’s unsafe for inmates and corrections officers.

Recent basement flooding at Geiger knocked out all security systems, Knezovich said.

Neither the security cameras nor electronic door locks worked. If an evacuation had been required, officers would have had to go door to door with keys, Knezovich said.

Knezovich and Richard attributed the reduction in construction cost to a decision to switch from a tower next to the current jail to a one-story compound of modular buildings near the Medical Lake exit on Interstate 90.

They said an $8 million increase in annual operating costs was eliminated by abandoning a plan for “direct supervision.” That approach reduces recidivism by having officers work face to face with inmates, but requires a larger staff, Knezovich said.

Plans now call for a circle of inmate “pods” around a central control booth.

Commissioners haven’t set a new date for a bond measure but are considering the Aug. 16 primary or the Nov. 8 general election.

Richard said commissioners are trying to be sensitive to the financial pressures taxpayers are facing, but “we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb” and probably can’t wait for the economy to recover.

Marshall Farnell, the county’s chief executive officer, estimated a $200 million bond measure would cost 45 to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – up to $100 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

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